Denis Peirce: Head to the coast to fish |

Denis Peirce: Head to the coast to fish

We are heading into another triple digit weekend. It is hard to find the motivation to be outdoors in the afternoon these days. There are couple of choices to beat the heat: head up the hill into the high country or go to the coast.

The place on the coast that I have spent the most time is Tomales and Bodega Bays. I had family in Santa Rosa an hour away. What I liked about this place is that you do not have to go through the Bay Area to get there and it is a four hour drive from home.

I recently was in touch with Adam Koons, a kayak angler, who had returned from a few days of fishing on Tomales Bay for halibut. Adam is an accomplished angler having won “Angler of The Year” with his kayak club and he was willing to share his technique on how he pursues these fish.

Tomales Bay is protected from the North Pacific swells by Point Reyes. In effect, it is a saltwater lake, a place where kayaks and small boats can safely get out on the water. It is the location where the San Andreas Fault goes out to sea, north of San Francisco.

Halibut can be caught in the bay from March through September but the prime months are mid June through mid August. Adam looks for low tide early in the morning with minimal tidal change when picking a day to go. Ideal conditions are clear and warm water that come with little tidal fluctuation.

His fishing day begins before dawn to be on the water catching live bait at first light. There are a number of bait fish in the bay. Adam’s preferred bait is shiner perch which have produced his largest halibut from Tomales Bay. Jack smelt and anchovies are also present but perch have been the most productive. Adam wants smaller baits. Perch range from .75 up to 3 inches. His largest halibut was caught on a .75 inch perch. He is also looking for smaller jack smelt for his live bait well. Sabiki rigs are a good way to catch live bait in the ocean. You can learn how to use them with an internet search.

Halibut live on sandy bottoms. Adam has had the best results close to weed beds in 10 to 15 feet of water. He has been fishing this bay for many years keeping track of the locations where he has caught fish on his gps device. Typically he hooks up within 50 feet of the locations where he has caught these fish before. He does not know why they feed in the same places. There are no discernible features to the spots. But trip after trip the same locations produce.

Slack tide has also been better for Adam. He trolls his live bait at less than a half mile per hour a foot or two off the bottom. He nose hooks his bait with light wire circle hooks in sizes #4 or #6. Circle hooks will lip hook the fish enabling an easy release of under sized halibut.

If live bait is not available other options include two ounce jig heads with a swim bait in white or light green and Rattle Trap plugs in shiner perch colors.

I asked about halibut in Tomales Bay versus San Francisco Bay. Adam prefers Tomales first for its sheltered water and because there are far fewer undersized fish as a percentage of the catch. A typical halibut from Tomales will be 25 to 30 inches with Adams best being a 40 inch fish estimated to be in the 20 pound class.

There are a number of kayak launching possibilities in Tomales. There is a county boat launch at Miller Park on the east side of the bay. There are two lanes here, Adam recommends kayaks use the north lane which is shallow, leaving the deeper side for larger boats. There is overnight parking for boaters using the boat in campsites on the Point Reyes side of the bay.

Adam’s other recommendation is not to net under size halibut. Halibut are susceptible to their tails being split by the net string. They swim away nicely but their tails get infected and they can perish in a couple of weeks from this condition.

The other fishing opportunity in this vicinity is Bodega Bay. The salmon season in the ocean reopened the last week of June with a huge concentration of salmon from south of the Golden Gate up through Bodega Bay. The anchovies were thick in this area and the salmon were feeding heavily. The “Hot Bite” limits by mid morning, lasted for over a week. By the holiday weekend the bite began to slow down. Limits were still being caught but it took all day. The slowing bite started by the Golden Gate and progressed up the coast. The whole mass of fish were migrating north. This week the salmon fishing has tapered off in the Bodega area. With king salmon still being caught. As often happens there were schools of coho (silver) salmon mixed in with the kings. Silvers can not be taken and they are not to be brought on the boat. They must be released in the water. This is one of the reasons for the barbless hook restrictions for salmon fishing.

Historically Bodega Bay has been “Salmon Central” for the month of July. As the bait comes and goes the salmon will follow. It will continue to be a good bet for salmon anglers into the fall. There are numerous fishing charters based here. On the west side of Bodega Bay is a public launch ramp for trailered boats.

The downside to the Tomales/Bodega area is its close proximity to the Bay Area. To get a camp site you must reserve your spot in the winter. The salmon fishing boats are booked for the month of July, you need to act now to get a seat in August.

While we are sweltering with triple digit heat it is cool and breezy on the coast with some nice fish to be caught.

Denis Peirce writes a fishing column for The Union’s Outdoors section and is host of “The KNCO Fishing & Outdoor Report,” which airs 6-7 p.m. Fridays and 5-6 a.m. Saturdays on 830-AM radio. Contact him via his website at

Adam Koons of Auburn with a pair of nice halibut caught in Tomales Bay two weeks ago.
Photo by Thien Dang

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